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Bay Bridge deal may be coming

August 24, 2004 Reposted from the San Jose Mercury News
   By Andrew LaMar

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday signaled interest in a stopgap measure to keep Bay Bridge construction going, a sign he may be preparing to abandon his call for toll payers to shoulder $2.5 billion in project cost overruns.

Administration officials began negotiating with Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, as Schwarzenegger's plan appeared to stall in the Assembly.

Last week, the governor suggested the Bay Bridge's massive cost overruns should be paid entirely by tolls collected from motorists crossing the region's bridges.

The proposal outraged Bay Area lawmakers, who have rallied around a Perata bill that would delay a decision about how to pay for the overruns until an independent audit is conducted. The last time Bay Bridge costs significantly exceeded projections, in 2001, lawmakers evenly split the amount between the state and toll payers.

Perata said he hopes to reach a compromise with the governor in the coming days. Schwarzenegger's plan is opposed by the Legislature's Democratic leaders.

The governor's legislative director ``said he had a couple of ideas he wanted to run by us,'' Perata said. He was still waiting for a counter-proposal late Monday afternoon.

Vince Sollitto, the governor's deputy press secretary, said he could not comment on the talks. Schwarzenegger remains committed to his proposal, Sollitto said.

Construction of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span is in jeopardy of being halted because the state is running out of money for the project. The next phase is to build the self-anchored suspension portion of the span, but to award the $1.5 billion contract for the job the state needs to come up with an additional $306 million.

Perata's bill would provide the money to award the contract before the bid expires Sept. 30. If Caltrans is forced to seek more bids for the self-anchored suspension, the process could take 12 to 16 months, a lag that could inflate prices more than 5 percent.

Bay Area legislators prepared a letter Monday asking the state auditor to review Bay Bridge construction costs. As negotiations unfolded, they held off sending it.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Concord, floated a plan to fund bridge costs with state revenue from a casino the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians want to establish in San Pablo.

But the idea received a cool reception from other legislators, including Perata, who opposes the casino.

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